' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Tell birth FIRST mothers the truth about adoption

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tell birth FIRST mothers the truth about adoption

 USA Today published two letters today following up my viewpoints piece (I share Oprah's mom's shame and pain) of last week: "Counsel birth mothers about the realities of adoption" reads a headline I can only think of as stupendous--as it is over a terrific letter by Jeanine M. Biocic, president of Origins-USA, and a email friend of ours at FMF. 
"Birth mothers believe, in fact are told, that relinquishing their child is the best thing all around. Rarely do they comprehend, until it is too late, that they may live the rest of their lives with secrecy, grief, and stigma, never forgetting and always wondering about the uncertainly of the life that awaits their child.  Rarely do they comprehend, until it's too late, that relinquishing their child will affect decisions they make for the rest of their lives, and not always for the better."
Go Jeanine!

The second letter is from adoptee Alice Miceli, of Tabernacle, New Jersey, who writes that while she has found members of her mothers family, such as cousins and aunts, she has been unable to find her mother, though she has been searching for 35 years. From a letter left by her mother in her adoption file, she knows that her mother came from a very abusive family, and she understands the pain of mothers who give up their children:
The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories"I have wanted to fin my birth mother to give her a big hug, and thank her for giving me a better life and for the great sacrifice she made for the love of me. I do not judge her; she was alone, young with nowhere to turn. Birth mothers need to be found so we adoptees can express our feelings to them." 
Amen to both writers, and thank you both. (Links to both letters above.) The world needs to know about the pain of the "adoption option" from both the viewpoint of birth mother and child. Letters and op-ed pieces wherever we can get them increase public awareness as we continue the fight for open records in state after state. In New Jersey the battle seems especially difficult as the state's preeminent newspaper, The Star-Ledger, is opposed to adoptee rights, and keeps giving the opposition op-ed space on their pages. One the editors are especially fond of is the wrong-headed director of the New Jersey ACLU, Deborah Jacobs, who seems especially determined to save us first mothers from the temporary embarrassment of acknowledging our children who have been lost to adoption.

Me? I'm cynical. I think she has adoption for herself in the back of her childless 40-something mind. Or some cock-eyed sense of "women's rights" that overshadows her ability to put herself in the shoes of an adopted person. Liberals like Jacobs think of adoption quite simply as "a good thing," and wear the blinders of sharing their wealth with the rest of the world without thinking of the heartache and turmoil and lifelong grief behind most adoptions. 

Yet behind every adoption of  child from a living, breathing woman is a woeful mother leaving a trail of tears. I say "most" because there are always kids who actually need a home and family to feel a part of, as my cohort Jane and I have stated in our page on What We Think About Adoption. Yet those children are the exception, not the rule. 

They only way to change opinion of calcified lawmakers is to make our voices heard. If you are reading this, in any state or province or country in the world, and want the laws changed, write a letter to your local paper. Use the Oprah connection to give the letter a current "hook." First mothers and adoptees in Michigan, Indiana, Montana, New Jersey, California, New York, Vermont Connecticut, Florida and everywhere, use this Oprah moment to stand up and be counted, to make a stake for ending all closed adoptions with open records, not only for our children, but for ourselves also. If you don't do it, who will?--lorraine  
Coming next: On learning that my daughter had epilepsy and that it was likely caused by the birth control pills I took when I did not know I was pregnant.


  1. It really escapes me how anyone with liberal or progressive or left-leaning (pick your moniker) political tendencies could possibly view closed records as right or just in any possible way. I haven't figured it out yet, wish I could.

    Youa re right about the letters. More adoptive parents, myself included, need to start writing. Definitely myself included.

    Thanks for the tip on that book, too.

  2. I don't understand one thing and that is why we are referred to as BIRTH mothers, it's abhorrent, it's humiliating and it's INCORRECT. I am not a child machine or a surrogate. If my lost son is a 'birth' son, then so are my raised children!!! Please you have the power to do something about this. Please do whatever it takes to get this word out of the public's vocabulary

  3. Sharon: I tried to get USA Today use "first" mother but they thought it meant "first-time" mother; I use "first" whenever I can. But you know what? If I only used "first mother" people goggling for information would never find our blog. I do what I can, where I can, but it's like swimming upstream against rapids. Birth mother (which I use as two words because adoptive mother is also 2 not one word) is so commonplace that it will take a while to change the language. And while some insist that birthmother as one word is like grandmother, I rebel against that because it never lets us lose the "birth" from who we are: mothers.

    Why not drop a line to USA Today and state your feelings about open records? And add with indignation that would call yourself not a birth mother and how you find it offensive. I cannot do this alone.

    As for "birth child," or "birth daughter," that is an abomination. An acquaintance once corrected a close friend of mine when she was talking to my husband about my daughter Jane shortly after she died. I cannot look at that woman without wanting to ask: So how is your adoptive daughter these days? She doesn't visit much, I understand....

    One day I may find the courage to talk to her quietly about this. I'd like to punch her in the face, to be honest, yet she is in the other circle of my inner circle of friends and acquaintances.

  4. Words are not abominations (birth mother, birth daughter etc). They are just words. Don't use the ones that do not work for you.

    Sealed records and coercing mothers to surrender when that is not their choice are the real abominations. Secrets and lies are abominations. That is all I have to say on this subject.

    The letters are excellent, let's stay on topic. And write more on-topic letters that are not quibbling about insider language, but exposing the real wrongs in adoption practice.

  5. I knew that adoption would cause me and my son pain. I was 17 yrs when I gave birth. Thise that felt adoption was
    best for a child knew this too. There were papers written and published about it but of course no one would tell mothers that after all they were working to find homes for "unwanted" babies.

  6. I am so tired of these adoptee letters that say, "I just want to find my "birth" mother so I can thank her for giving me up for adoption, tell her she made the right choice and that I am so grateful, etc. ad nauseum. These letters are so pro-adoption. At least this writer got a plug in there for being able to find her first mother. I would hazard a guess that anyone who doesn't know much about adoption would get the impression that adoption is a wonderful thing. Since adoption is supposed to be about the child I doubt most people would give more weight to a first mother's pain than he or she would to the supposed great benefits the child gets from being adopted. These happy dappy adoptees certainly make it sound as if adoption is in the best interest of the child.

    Also this adoptee says she has been searching for so many years but already knows other members of her first mother's family. Doesn't anyone in her maternal family know where her nmother is?

  7. Lorraine - I did write to USA Today but I'm not sure if it went through. I saw that in your personal history you call yourself a natural mother and I really believe that's the most appropriate 'tag' if we need one at all, but I'm glad that you are at least aware. I had never heard of this abominable term until I began searching for my son in 1995/6. Reunion has been a whole other education, but I must say that that particular word doese grate on my nerves. Thanks for your response. Sharon

  8. Question
    If words aren't abominations why is so much emphisis
    put on adoption language by adoption agencies. Words
    are used to negate us as mothers. To create or demonize
    us in order to give power to another or others.

  9. Robin, I agree it was a shame that there wasn't another letter from an adoptee with a different viewpoint. The adoptee who wrote clearly felt that she dodged a bullet by being saved from an abusive family. But the words she used clearly reference the "saint" stereotype of the first mother who loved her child enough to give her away.

    On the other hand, she did argue that adoptees need access to their first mothers. I wasn't thrilled that she said we need to THANK them for placing us, though. I am not thankful for being adopted. Still, I suppose it's her experience to live and describe.

    Her rhetoric follows the "good" adoptee script. Maybe that will help get a positive reunion message through to those who feel that outspoken adoptees are thugs who want to upset the fragile lives of poor "birth mothers" and "savior" adoptive parents.

    I am truly sad that our position is so circumscribed and polarized, mostly by people who haven't lived it.

  10. On the letter from Michelle, the adoptee from an abusive family; the reason she cannot find her birthmother but found other relatives is probably because her mother cut herself off from that family many years ago. It happens more often than you might think.

    I knew several adoptees with searches like this, where for reasons of abuse, mental illness, substance abuse, or just alienation, relatives lost touch and had not heard from the mother who surrendered for many years.

    Sometimes they have died, sometimes are homeless, sometimes they are institutionalized, and because of privacy laws, difficult to find. Sometimes they just do not want to be found, by any relative.

    People need to tell their own stories in letters, not stick to any script, pro or con adoption. The important point to make is that adoptees should have access to their own OBC, and abuses in adoption should be corrected.

  11. Ms Marginalia,

    Got that right!!! Your words

    I am truly sad that our position is so circumscribed and polarized, mostly by people who haven't lived it.

  12. Thank you Lorraine. I thought the two responses were excellent as was your article.

    And thanks Maryanne for the reminder that another debate about terminology is off topic. I have just left a support group for moms because there are now people dictating that no one, not even new members are allowed to mention the "birth" word. It's become so tedious and when I began to read here tonight at your blog I had to sigh that here it is again. I got blasted last week because I dared to post a link here that used the term BM/FM.

    I personally prefer Natural or Original Mother if it's necessary to differentiate for MYSELF, but just don't get this total lack of respect for other mothers to refer to themselves however they choose. And Lorraine is correct in that in order to take advantage of something referred to as search engine optimization, searches, you must have the "key words" that people know in order to bring them to your blog/site, etc.

    Lorraine, thank you to both you and Jane for being such rationale voices for us. I've noticed that those who complain the loudest, rarely write a letter or do anything to support adoption reform other than complain.

  13. Maryanne, I made a mistake where it comes to what Alice Miceli, the adoptee letter writer, said.

    She wrote: "Birth mothers need to be found so we adoptees can express our feelings to them."

    Feelings can be positive *or* negative. And in adoption, ambivalence abounds.

    But I think you also missed an important line of what I wrote: "Still, I suppose it's her experience to live and describe." I am allowed to have an opinion about what she wrote, but I did clearly say it was her story to tell. And I in no way believe, or stated, that she would have been better off with an abusive natural family.

    It is well within the limits of critical thinking to wonder how certain language will affect people's sympathy for adoptees who are working for open records. Yes, we *all* need to work together to help adoptees get their OBCs in the United States. But right now, as we saw in many of the comments left after Lorraine's opinion piece, the messages of reform-minded first mothers and adoptees are often summarily dismissed by those who consider what we say irrelevant. "Oh, 10% of people don't know who their fathers are anyway!" "Who cares!" "Stop whining! Your life could be much worse."

    There is a long way to go.

  14. Thank you Maryanne and Carolc and Lorraine for focusing the conversation on what matters -- open records, and the truth about what relinquishment and adoption means in the lives of all connected -- and saying clearly how the word wars are not pushing either cause forward.
    As we all have the right to know who we are and where we came from, we all have the right to describe our family relationships in words that work for us.
    To attempt to BAN one word or the other, especially from one woman who relinquished to another, strikes me as the worst kind of "majoring on the minors"behavior out there.
    Women, let's stick together and fight for what matters -- care and concern for families; open records; ending the legacy of secrets and lies.
    Please let's stop the name-calling and label-bashing and language-policing. It's worse than unproductive. It's divisive and slows down an important fight that really needs all hands on deck.

  15. Thanks Eileen for the affirmation that while we agree language is important, we need to keep our eyes on the goal, not berating each other.

  16. I agree that people need to write their own truth about adoption. However, I find it circumspect that I have never seen a letter in a newspaper from and adoptee saying that s/he did not have a perfect a-family and feels damaged by adoption. I think such a letter in combination with a first mother letter like Jeanine wrote would go a long way towards showing that adoption is not always what it's cracked up to be. Unfortunately, editors only seem to approve the grateful adoptee letters.

    Maryanne wrote:
    " The important point to make is that adoptees should have access to their own OBC, and abuses in adoption should be corrected"

    Actually, I think the fact that adoption is not always the great, wonderful solution to problem pregnancy that it is made out to be also needs to be addressed.

    Not surprisingly, there is already a comment saying in essence that the first mother's pain should be given scant consideration since she is giving the child a chance for a better life by giving him up for adoption. This undying myth that the child will be better off is why I think that a letter from a not so happy dappy adoptee would be very powerful.

  17. Robin, write that letter. Send it to as many places as possible where it applies. You never know what might get published. Lorraine's story as a mother who surrendered is not all happy dappy and she has gotten published in many places. There are a few not so nice stories out there, but more can't hurt.

  18. Dear (insert abomination du jour))mother,

    I am writing to tell you that my life sucked, still sucks and adoption did not turn out at all the way I imagine you expected it would.

    I'm a damaged person as a result.

    Call me?

    Somehow I don't think many adopted people would take this approach. Are these letters being questioned as real or are we just judging the writer for how they approach writing a letter to the woman who gave birth to them that they've never met but wish to?

  19. Campbell, do you truly believe that Robin or anyone here would write such a crude letter? And no, I do not believe either letter was fake. Just that the content of the letter is consonant with received wisdom about adoption: it's the best possible thing for all involved, with natural families in a minor role and a grateful adoptee. Maybe it was chosen from many letters, maybe not. Only the editor knows.

    I agree that Robin would be an excellent person to write and advocate for different experiences than those most heard in the public.

  20. It strikes me that we are criticizing letters that got published that are on our side, supporting open records, supporting search and reunion. These are NOT letters opposing our agenda, even though they may come from the "happy dappy" side.

    They may not be the letters we would write, and the feelings expressed may be different, but why this rigid demand for some kind of political correctness in adoptee feelings? Why such disdain at what for some adoptees is an honest expression of their real feelings, wanting to thank their natural mother?

    No, not every adoptee feels that way, nor should they, and all feelings, positive and negative, should be expressed. But if we turn away those who are happy adoptees from joining us in the fight for open records and adoption reform, who are we really hurting>

  21. Everyone should write letters to any media outlet that will publish them--the message should be that adoptees and first mothers want the records unsealed, the laws repealed.

    I have no way of knowing how many letters USA Today received. They have not sent any one to me. I do not know Alice, but Pam Hasegawa tells me she often gets her letters published. As Maryanne and others have said, the important thing it to make one's voice heard.

    Adoptees and first mothers, let American hear your roar!

  22. Adoptees I have known who have talked about thanking their mothers when they meet explain that they believe it will make her feel good about her "decision." Telling her she did the right thing will advance their relationship.

    They are surprised when I tell them that she will likely consider it an insult.

    Another reason often giving for planning to tell their birth she did the right thing to reassure their adoptive parents that they're not planning to abandon them.

    These adoptees believe that if they put a happy face on being adopted, everyone else will be happy.

    The truth for many adoptees is that the "thank their birth mother" statement serves to disguise, rather than express, their real feelings.

  23. I was not thanked,but would not be insulted if I was. For some adoptees, it is how they really feel. I think we each have to listen carefully and compassionately to our own kids and accept what they say as what they mean. After all, we would want to be treated the same way by them.

  24. That is so true, Jane. I have never really heard it articulated that way but it really resonates with me.

    There is that idea out there in the ether as well. I remember when I was new in reunion telling my mother, "I suppose I am obliged to thank you for giving me life; the only problem is I am not grateful"

    She said, "You don't have to thank me, I would just hope you are happy to be alive" and I just looked at her, because I wasn't. It must have been really hard to be in reunion with me because I so suck at being fake and I was so terribly damaged.

  25. I wholeheartedly agree, Jane. Adoptees have been told what to think and how to feel about being adopted all our lives. So I don't think we can always "accept what they say as what they mean" as Maryanne wrote. It seems the doctors, attorneys, social wreckers and other professionals knew how we would feel even before we were born.

    I recently read a book called Reunion by Katie Hern and Ellen McGarry Carlson. The first part of the book by Katie (the adoptee) sounds like a Hollywood reunion story with all the usual platitudes. After she meets her first mother, however, her real feelings start to surface and the book becomes much more compelling and honest. Seems being adopted wasn't the carefree, happy dappy experience she had always tried to convince herself it was.

    And yes, there probably are many adoptees who really do feel thankful that their nmother chose adoption but probably just as many say such things just to make others happy.

  26. Thankfully, my daughter who was 34 yrs old at the time I found her, didn't 'thank' me (nor has to this day), nor 'thank' me for giving her life. To 'thank' me in either circumstance would assume I made an 'adoption plan', which I did not or that legal abortion was available to me, which it was not.
    Rather, she was honest with me...telling me how angry she was with me because..'you left me'. That was her honest feeling and I listened to her and tried my best to acknowledge and validate that which my daughter honestly felt. In almost 12 yrs of reunion, she has never told me she was glad to be adopted. Rather she would tell me...if it hadn't been the adoptive parents she ended up with, it would've been just another set of adoptive parents, waiting in line to adopt. Reason: I surrendered and after that for her, it was a roll of the dice.
    And please no one correct me...I speak only in regards to my individual reunion with my own daughter, *our* own experience in *our* own reunion.

  27. Chris,

    Your have a perceptive and sensitive daughter!

  28. Ditto, Jane, and I have to say that I am very glad those words "thank you" never came out of my daughter's mouth. With her epilepsy she knew that she was dependent on very good health insurance, which her adoptive father had as he worked in the industry!, and the only thing she ever said was that ...I don't know how you could have handled all that in your situation, as a single person. Which strikes me as quite sensitive to the realities of my life, and the time.

    But I said to myself, and to her: I would have found a way.

    She nodded.

  29. Having been reunited with my daughter five years ago her thank you to me was for being "nothing that she feared and everything she had hoped for."
    We have touched on the past but she wants to stay focused on the now. Here are some of her words written to me. "Years gone, moments lost. Nothing to do now, but mourn and make new moments. You now have the chance to be my beautiful mother! We were never really totally separated. I always felt your love. You gave me the strength to make it through. You gave me some fiesty genes to live an interesting life. And now you give me the great joy of a mother lost and then found! These words were written on a box she made me to fill with "my thoughts, hurt, sadness and rightful anger."
    It hurts that I lost so many years with such a joy of a daughter.

  30. Trying,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your joy. It was uplifting to hear about the positive side of reunion. I'm happy for the two of you.


  31. "The truth for many adoptees is that the 'thank their birth mother' statement serves to disguise, rather than express, their real feelings."

    Jane, this was true for me. I thanked her in the first letter I sent to her because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I was afraid that if I said anything else, she might be angry with me. Even now, she is so skittish that I have to downplay most of what I feel to get her to come to the table.

    As an adoptee, I am a chameleon and change my colors to make people happy. I don't necessarily like this about myself, but it's a learned coping mechanism.

    I hope that someday my mother and I will be able to speak openly--and yet kindly--to each other without worrying so much that the other one will never speak to us again.

  32. Thank you for this post. I needed an affirmation after a rather unsettling "discussion" in my PR class this morning. We were discussing activist PR and my professor asked if any of us were interested in activist work.(Let me state that I have complete admiration and respect for my professor regardless of his lack of familiarity on the subject.) I of course spoke up about the need for adoption reform--particularly in the states with closed records.The focus was changed to another cause because of the "lack of opposition in adoption reform". I about DIED! If there were not opposition, there would not be first mothers, adoptees, etc. writing blogs, books, and articles all advocating for a change!!! There would also not be lawyers and lawmakers making a profit off of those who are uninformed.
    I waited a few moments and spoke up. What opposition are you aware of, I asked. The answer-none. I did not get very far because I could not hold up emotionally. I wish I had been ready with a response.
    Awareness of the corrupt aspect of adoption is crucial in advocating for a change. I join you, Lo, in writing our news media. Using Opera for a news peg is an excellent idea! I have tried once writing to the editorial section, but I will try again!

  33. I think words are very important. Words shape how people think about a topic. As an adult adoptee, I feel marginalized when people call me an "adopted child." It's symbolic of the fact that people do not realize that adoption impacts more than children and that we are all still adopted, even after our 18th birthday. It's symbolic of the law and society not treating us as adults. I also think that words and phrases such as "track down" when someone is searching for reunion etc. enforce the stereotype that adoptees are by nature disruptive and careless of other people's feelings.

    If words are limitting and marginalizing to someone or a group of people, they should say something about it. I think any individual certainly has a right to appreciate or object to how others label or refer to them. It's when people squabble over it, get off topic etc. that people miss our point.

    If I had met my first mother before finding this community and having more time to reflect and sort out different elements of adoption, I would have "thanked" her too. Why? Because we think we're supposed to. There's one script to use: and the non-adopted society writes it.



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